As he begins his 10th season on the USA TODAY Sports Board of Coaches ranking the country’s top 25 college basketball teams, Northwestern State’s Mike McConathy has a near-perfect record.
In nine seasons of casting a preseason ballot, weekly votes over four winter months and a final top 25 list on the night of the national championship game, he’s missed only one vote. After a restless journey back home from a mid-December 2006 game at Hawaii, McConathy realized too late he hadn’t sent in that week’s top 25 in his first season on the voting panel.
“Since then, my voting record is way better than my coaching record,” said the winningest coach in Louisiana college basketball history.
USA Today officials sent preseason instructions to the panel voters this week. The National Association of Basketball Coaches collaborates in choosing coaches to vote each season. The preseason top 25 ballots are due Oct. 12 with the results published, along with the roster of voters, online on Oct. 15.
“This poll is a really good gauge of the best teams in college basketball because it involves coaches from every conference and representing programs at every level of Division I,” said McConathy. “It’s a privilege to be involved and to represent Northwestern State and the Southland Conference, and mid-major programs.”
In season, votes are due by noon Eastern time each Monday. NSU plays nearly every Saturday and several times early in the following week. While McConathy keeps watch on results of noteworthy games daily, when honing in on his ballot, he opens his door and asks for input. Discussions often enliven road trips.
“It’s more fun than work. I enjoy involving our staff and discussing it with them. They each have a different perspective and background in college basketball so I’ll get some input that helps me fill out the best possible top 25 that week,” he said
There’s a simple overriding premise applied as McConathy reviews possible top 25 teams.
“Strength of schedule matters. Teams can have a great record and not have beaten anybody of significance, so it’s harder to get a handle on how good they are. Even though they’re doing a really, really good job, without games against quality opponents, it’s difficult to evaluate them against the other top teams in the country,” he said.
NSU’s status as a successful and nationally-respected mid-major basketball program naturally is reflected in McConathy’s voting philosophy. The Demons have four postseason tournament appearances in his 16 seasons, including a pair of NCAA Tournament wins, and have traditionally played one of the country’s stronger non-conference schedules.
“I try to give mid-majors more of a good look. They deserve a chance. If their schedule isn’t strong, it’s difficult to give them extra consideration as one of the top 25 teams in the country. But if they schedule well, given the opportunity, really good mid-major teams find their way into the poll,” he said.
“There are more mid-majors earning their way into the NCAA Tournament since I’ve been voting on the poll, and more who are advancing in the tournament. That demonstrates that there is great depth around Division I basketball and it’s not just the name brand programs that are the best teams in the country week to week and year to year,” said McConathy.
His top 25 voting consistency is rivalled by his dedication to making his way to the voting booths on Election Day.
“I’m great at going to the polls, but there’s no doubt I’m better at ranking the best basketball teams than I have been in casting votes for winning candidates,” he said.